I have a friend whose wife passed away a couple of years ago.
She didn’t “go gentle into that good night.” She put up a brave fight, but ultimately lost.
Or maybe she didn’t.
In the final stages of her bout with Parkinson’s, she gracefully accepted the fact that the disease was going to take her life. She was prepared. Martin Luther, an important architect of Western Civilization, once said that death is a battle waged alone. Your best friend can’t accompany you or share the experience. We travel solo on a one-way, non-refundable ticket.
Unless, of course, you make the decision to entrust the journey to the one who created you. My friend’s wife long ago made that choice. She accepted Jesus Christ as her savior.
My friend’s wife had an aggressive form of Parkinson’s and her husband was her caregiver for over a decade. An energetic and vibrant woman, she declined steeply during her final years and spent the last several in a wheelchair, scarcely able to speak.
I’ve met more than a hundred caregivers in my day, and my friend ranks up there with the finest. Imbued with an excess of grit, conviction and cantankerousness, he was a fabulous attendant for his wife. He opted for an early retirement to give her his full attention. She was the girl he’d fallen in love with in high school.
His wife’s health became his grand challenge, his obsession. He stood by her, and together they faced just about the worst life has to offer. He’s counseled many others facing similar circumstances.
He was her unwavering champion during the travail and routinely challenged and exhorted her. He was her coach, always prompting, urging and extolling. He made certain that she got into the fresh air daily, and that she exercised. There were times, I’m sure, when she wanted to give up. He wouldn’t allow it.
Clever with things mechanical, he assembled contraptions to facilitate her exercise regimen.
He took his assignment seriously. It wasn’t something he necessarily signed on for on their wedding day more than 40 years earlier, but it was the role he accepted and carried to its completion.
“It’s what we must do,” he once told me. “Our lives go in directions we can’t anticipate, and we have to be prepared to respond.”
He never cursed the fates, not that I observed.
Ever the enthusiastic, go-go, rah-rah cheerleader-type, he was in a reflective mood when I last saw him a few weeks ago. It wasn’t what I expected. He questioned whether he’d encouraged her too much. Maybe he should have given more hugs and fewer entreaties.
None of us gets it absolutely correct every time. We’re human. We mess up. But my friend came as close as anyone could to performing the perfect service for another. He stands as a beacon of inspiration to caregivers.
He has no cause to question his performance two years after his wife’s passing. He dramatically improved her quality of life. She received the best care possible.
My friend told me the other day that his wife faced her final days with equanimity. She stood up — not literally, of course — to death’s approach.
Earlier in life she’d been a vigorous and spirited woman who busied herself physically and intellectually. Her earlier years set the foundation for the latter. When she could do virtually nothing else, she continued to read voraciously.
Jesus figuratively described death as “sleep.” That’s a comfort to believers. And my friend’s wife never ceased believing.
Jim Carnett, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.